The trouble with the first couple of days of Test matches is that much of the time every observation is couched in maybes, might bes and possiblys. There are exceptions of course, the slaughter taking place in Melbourne has few uncertainties beyond wondering whether Australia will win by hundreds or an innings and hundreds.
At Kingsmead in contrast, it’s very much in the balance, as Test matches should be at this stage. In your classic Test story, the first two days are feeling each other out, while day three is moving day, and day four is finding out if the team on the rough end of day three will fight back. Day five of course being the result day.
So at least thus far this Test is following the perfect script. If the first day was even, it’s hard not to feel the second day deserves exactly the same epithet. And yet England probably should be the happier; they had the clear worst of the conditions on the first day, yet survived it, and in less bowler friendly conditions on day two removed four top order players.
Against that it must be said that the way England’s innings fell away from a position of promise will – or should – deeply irritate the team, and it’s hardly the first time it’s happened in recent years anyway.
Nick Compton held the innings together, his 85 of obdurate defence would have received much greater plaudits from certain quarters had it come from another obdurate player in the England side, which says more about those offering the praise than anything else – Compton was excellent and was the primary reason England made a competitive score. Bairstow’s breezy 41 briefly arrested the decline of the innings, while Broad, who appears to have at least partially rediscovered his batting mojo, provided much needed runs at the end to get England over 300.
In this calendar year, Broad has over 50 Test wickets at an average of 24. And yet he remains in at least some quarters a prophet who is not honoured in his own land. His record over the last few years is excellent, sufficiently so that he was pretty much the only player to come out of the Ashes disaster of 13/14 with any dignity left intact. For some reason he still faces constant criticism.
Certainly here his wicket in the first over was one that would give opening batsman nightmares – the last thing you want to see is the ball arrowing back into off stump when you don’t want to play, likewise Hashim Amla, out of form or not, could have done little with the one that caused his downfall.
And so to that moving day mentioned earlier. In which direction? Who knows. That’s why when Test cricket is at it best, we watch.